Microsoft Turns Your Desperate 311 Complaints into Precious “Feelings” Map


Have you ever wished you could hear your neighbors complain more? Of course you haven’t. You probably don’t wonder about the inner life of the man into whose armpit you were wedged for the duration of your morning commute, either. But now, thanks to a new map developed by Microsoft, New Yorkers who have trouble picking up on verbal and physical cues can consult a handy new map that claims to synthesize your neighborhood’s general disposition using 311 complaints.

The map, called Here Here, mines the data collected every time you call 311 to complain about the new and different blight has appeared in your neighborhood — the trash that hasn’t been picked up, the cars blocking driveways, the sewage that spilled, the fresh graffiti — and uses it to divine your neighborhood’s general disposition. Those feelings are then plotted on a map in cartoon graphics and cutesy computer-generated gchat pidgin ::Rolls eyes::

…No, seriously, the map is pre-programed with expressions like “::Rolls eyes::” and “::Smiles::” and “::Facepalm::” They appear, often nonsensically, alongside phrases like “No toilet concerns” or “new record for animal abuse complaints.” A neighborhood may be “delighted” if certain complaints — about homeless, for instance — drop to zero, or “ashamed” if there is a sudden increase reports of, say, underage drinking.

Microsoft explains the information it collects is processed through a “Sentient Data Server.” “SDS equips each neighborhood with a personality (like a character in a movie or videogame) and we calculate the character’s response to the latest data based on pace, position and trend.” Sentient Data Server sounds scientific, but the results don’t always seem quite so… human. (E.g., Southwest Queens: “I’m content. Cool! Haven’t seen this in a while, a few dust issues. This is a new daily record 29 reports of graffiti, and no carbon monoxide complaints.”)

More than anything, Here Here succeeds at illustrating how great, in number and frequency, the various indignities we put up with for the privilege of calling this city our home are, and how very low our quality of life expectations are. No rodent issues today? I’m delighted!!

Here is sample of neighborhood feelings, selected at random:

Stapleton & St. George: “Cool! Haven’t seen this in a while, a few concerns about animal waste. Big improvement over the last few days–no sewage complaints, and this is a new daily record a few concerns about a leak.”

Kings Bridge & Riverdale: “I’m triumphant! No odor issues, animal abuse issues, or reports of building access issues.”

Fresh Meadows: “I feel fortunate! Aww yeah! Big improvement over the last few days – no reports of sewage backup. No reports of traffic signal out and broken parking meter concerns.”

West Bronx: “Not bad! That’s a daily high of 5 rodent concerns. No toilet concerns and no concerns about car service.”

West Queens: “I feel Disappointed. Aw Man! Haven’t seen this recently, 4 incessant ice cream truck issues. This is a new daily record a few reports of food poisoning, and that’s a daily high of 23 blocked driveway issues.”

Mid-Island: “I feel ashamed… ::Hides face:: Haven’t seen this recently, a few manhole cover concerns. That’s the most I’ve seen of this recently a few barking dog concerns and 4 blocked driveway complaints.”

Upper East Side: “I’m uncomfortable… ::Squirms:: It’s been a while since this has come up, a few unhappy swimmer concerns, a few reports of illegal sign, and a few concerns about recycling.”

Greenwich Village: “I’m proud! ::Winks:: More than I’ve seen of this in a while, 20 concerns about noise. No bathtub concerns and no boiler issues.”

Murray Hill: “::Smiles:: Haven’t seen this in a while, a few house of worship noise issues. At least this is better than it has been – no concerns about mold and concerns about dirty conditions.”

Northwest Brooklyn: “I feel amused. Ha! It’s been a while since this has come up, a few concerns about a sprinkler and a few animal waste complaints. Big improvement over the last few days – no reports of mold.”

Canarsie: “I’m fortunate! No mailbox concerns, reports of animal waste, or broken parking meter concerns.”